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After her Honda Accord disappeared from a quiet street in Glover Park last October, Maggie Carey did everything she could to recover it. She called around to impoundment lots to confirm that her car had not been towed away. Then she called the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and filed a report. Carey was hopeful after a police officer told her that the department recovers 75 percent of vehicles stolen in the District within two weeks.

But two weeks flew by, and Carey discovered that she was among the unlucky 25 percent who sit by the phone waiting for a call from the cops. After two months of inaction, Carey finally gave up on ever seeing the car again and reported the loss to her insurance company.

While the police came up empty, though, a more diligent force of District auto finders had swooped down upon Carey’s Honda. Just after Carey returned from a holiday trip, she found an envelope with a return address from the Department of Public Works (DPW): She had two outstanding tickets—both of which were written two weeks after she reported her car stolen. One ticket cited Carey’s failure to report for inspection, while another charged her with disobeying an official sign. “Obviously, I had not driven my car in more than two months, and I knew I’d paid all my previous tickets,” she said. “I was angry and frustrated.”

In all, Carey received eight tickets written by DPW between Oct. 31 and Jan. 5.

Not to worry, a D.C. police officer told Carey—just write a letter to the traffic bureau explaining the mix up and you’ll be free. But two weeks after sending the letter, Carey received yet another reprimand for “unsatisfied tickets.”

Finally, Carey drove to 600 Keefer Place NW, where all eight of the outstanding tickets had been issued. “We cruised around this neighborhood, and sure enough, my car was sitting in the exact same place it had been since at least Oct. 31,” Carey remembers. The car was sans all its tires and windows, but still there.

“If I was able to locate my car simply by looking at the address on a parking ticket,” Carey says, “you would think the District could do the same.” But when Carey called the police to inform them of her discovery, an officer told her she would have to recover the car herself. When she told the officer her Honda now belonged to her insurance company, the cop promised to “send someone out to investigate.” That investigation is apparently still pending, as Carey has since received two more rebukes for outstanding parking tickets.

MPD Officer Kenny Bryson acknowledges that someone “should not be receiving tickets for a stolen vehicle.” However, he defended DPW, pointing out that ticket writers are not law enforcers. And if a vehicle has clearly been stripped and abandoned, DPW is under no obligation to investigate.

Apparently, DPW’s only obligation is to issue as many parking tickets as a set of wiper blades can hold down. Gwen Mitchell, DPW’s transportation systems administrator, says ticket writers do occasionally tip off the agency’s abandoned vehicles unit when they encounter trashed cars. The abandoned vehicles unit, in turn, passes the data along to MPD.

But how many tickets must DPW issue before it realizes that a car has been abandoned? “It’s not so much how many tickets, but the condition of the car—whether it’s been stripped and without tires and windows,” says Mitchell, who said she lacked the information to determine why Carey’s car didn’t meet DPW’s abandonment requirements. Carey still wants some answers, but all she has to show for her efforts is a handful of past-due tickets.CP